When our love of learning, becomes learning to love
An article for Counterpoint Magazine, October 1996
by Victor Kazanjian
T.S. Eliot once asked, " Where is the knowledge that is lost in information? Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?"
Most often these days we are buried by an avalanche of information or cast adrift on a sea of knowledge. But wisdom is neither simply information nor knowledge. Wisdom is understanding information in the context of relationship and applying knowledge with a deep regard for community.
As we attempt to rediscover the role of wisdom in this age of information, I believe we are being asked to examine some of the most basic tenants of the educational process. Education as the amassing of information, or the accumulation of individual knowledge so as to gain mastery over some aspect of the world, does not reflect the highest ideals for which we strive as educational institutions. Quite the opposite, the understanding of education as simply a ticket to worldly success, power and control has diminished education to the point of being merely another commodity tucked away in one of the aisles of the supermarket of our society. How do we begin to reclaim education as the deep process of intellectual awakening and self discovery that ultimately leads to wisdom?
I hear students asking over and over these days, "What is the purpose to all of this learning? What does the learning have to do with my living?" Like Eliot's questions about information, knowledge and wisdom, these too are spiritual questions and the frequency with which they are asked reflects an increasing desire on the part of students to find the relevance of their learning to the deepest parts of their lives.
I believe that beyond all of our individual pursuits and personal achievements, there lies a far greater purpose for our lives and our learning... and that purpose is love. We learn, so that we can love. Now I bet you won't find that in the Wellesley or M.I.T. catalogues. But I believe that it is at the core of the mission of any educational institution. Ultimately we do learn so that we can love (perhaps the same might said of our teaching as well)... for our learning has meaning only in as much as it relates to the lives of others. Our learning enables us to better understand ourselves, to better understand the world around us and to thereby discover ways in which we can apply our education in loving service to others.
Defining education in this way requires us to begin to see education as a spiritual as well as an intellectual process. In this educational community, I have come to think of the spiritual as that which animates our minds and our bodies giving meaning, purpose and context to thought, word and action. Thus those things, those moments, those people, those places, those practices that give our lives meaning and purpose and context form our spiritual life and are an extraordinary resource from which to draw strength and courage and insight. Another way that I have come to understand spirituality is simply that which moves us towards wholeness. Wholeness in this sense is about completeness. It is about bringing the parts of our lives into a balanced relationship. It is about healing the wounds of our hearts and mending the brokenness of our spirits. It is about discovering the beauty in that which we already are and the joy in that which we are becoming.
There is a Zen Buddhist story which speaks to the question of how education might become a more spiritual process.
There once was a learned, western academic who travelled to see a great Zen master seeking answers to questions about the deep meanings of life. Upon arrival, the academic impatiently waited for hours before being allowed to meet with the master. When the master finally arrived the academic immediately launched into a diatribe of thoughts and questions, theories and hypotheses. At one point while the academic was speaking, the master got up and walked over and picked up a pot of tea and brought it back to where the academic was seated. The master then started pouring the tea into a cup on a small table just in front of the academic. Although annoyed by this interruption the academic continued speaking. The master also continued to pour until the tea overflowed into the saucer and then onto the table and the floor. Finally the academic could stand no more and shouted, "STOP! What are you doing?" "Like you," replied the master, "This cup when full can accept nothing more. You must first empty yourself, if you are to learn anything new."
Spirituality is about space... the creation of space within and the celebration of spaces without.
My hope, my wish, indeed my prayer for each of you is that you take the time this year to create space within you so that it may be filled with the amazing mysteries that await us in our learning together.
At the heart of the Wellesley College campus there is a body of water, a living lake, a source of life for that which lives in it and on it and a source of inspiration for those of us who live or wander near its shores. Lake Waban has a sustaining power for those whom she nourishes by her splendor and her beauty. And reflected in her waters are the life stories of so many women who have passed by her shores and been changed in the passing.
Now I believe, that at the heart of every human being, there is a similar kind of body of water, an endless sea of living water, a source of life that nourishes and sustains us. Like Lake Waban, this water is a source of inspiration and it also has the power to transform our lives, giving meaning and purpose. This inner body of water is rarely called by name. I like to think of it as the Sea of the Soul, the River of Spirituality, the Wellspring of Life, and in its reflection, as we look deep within ourselves, we see not only our own essential being, but that of all of creation. For the bounds of this body of water are limitless, flowing far beyond our selves, encompassing all that is. I believe that like the water that is essential to our bodies, spirituality is essential to our beings. And in as much as we at Wellesley are about educating the whole person and preparing women for leadership in the 21st century, the task of nurturing spirituality is paramount.